Do You Need a Culinary Degree to Own a Restaurant?

A culinary degree lends validity to your preparation to take the next step. It shows others that you have formal schooling and are prepared to become a responsible restaurant owner and leader to your employees. While there are many arguments for and against culinary school, there is no denying that a formal education removes some barriers. Having a measurable understanding of basic accounting, food safety, labor costs, food preparation, and inventory systems, for example, is key to successfully starting a restaurant. If you're wondering whether you need a culinary degree, here are some things to keep in mind.

A Good Foundation

A formal education is fundamental to being able to perfect your craft. While having an excellent mentor or the opportunity to work in a demanding restaurant environment can advance learning, being educated on the basics can help you gain a better understanding of your career path and your mentor's lead. A two- or four-year degree can be costly, but it may help you create opportunities that would otherwise be unreachable without that diploma. After all, many employers insist on employees having a degree. However, once you're in the door, the skills you'll learn from hands-on experience will be invaluable.

It Doesn't Ensure Future Success, but It Doesn't Hurt

There's no mistaking the sweat that goes into successful business ownership. There's no substitute for hard work, and a piece of paper will not bail you out of a poorly executed plan. A culinary degree does, however, confirm that a chef has taken steps toward understanding the fundamentals of running a business. While it's no guarantee, it's the jumping-off point to core competencies being reached.

What Do the Professionals Think?

When asked if a culinary degree was necessary to successfully run a restaurant, John Fee (Culinary Institute of America, '83) of The Town Dock, a calamari purveyor based in Rhode Island, says he leans toward "yes." He adds that "it allows you to see options and other perspectives." Those varied options can easily be clouded if you're strapped to a kitchen and unable to tap the resources of culinary instructors.

Andreas Malmberg, the head chef at Moby's Shack in Torekov, Sweden, says, "I don't find a degree necessary as long as there is passion and a willingness to learn." However, that willingness to learn often comes to life through the pursuit of a degree. Chef Chris Commandant of XXX in Ottawa, Canada, adds, "I always look for someone who has some basic training from culinary schools. I know they will have been well-trained and able to survive."

Whichever side of the debate you fall on, being a successful restaurant owner starts with the right foundation, which can come from getting an education. A degree can temper concerns and demonstrate professionalism, which could otherwise be absent. "It might help with getting a loan from the bank," says Matthew Wayland, executive chef at Canyon of the Eagles in Burnet, Texas. "And business classes go a long way," he adds. So if you're trying to decide whether you should go to school, remember that a formal education could be an asset that's worthy of the time and financial investment.